“Secret Service Dogs: The Heroes Who Protect the President of the United States” by Maria Goodavage is not just a book about a few impressive dogs. Goodavage interviews the handlers, as well as those who began the canine program in the Secret Service, and she shares the stories in a way that is incredibly fascinating, very touching, and very real.
The readers meet Hurricane, who “thrives on belly rubs.” Hurricane is the dog who became a hero when there was an intruder on the lawn of the White House. His handler, Marshall, had to trust that Hurricane would pass by the other agents and get the intruder. In spite of being repeatedly
punched, he didn’t give up. When Hurricane finally got hold of one arm, another agent sent in his dog who took hold of the other arm — and the intruder finally gave up.
The story of Leth is perhaps the most touching in the book. Leth grew up in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge terrorized the citizens. He and his family lost their house and suffered horribly. Leth had a dog who loved him and followed them in exile. And Leth’s love of dogs remained a part of him his whole life. He eventually worked his way into the U.S. Secret Service, and he talked to Goodavage about working with his dog to protect the president. “‘Every day I go to work I am proud of who and what I am working for,’ he says. ‘I came to this country with nothing, just one small backpack, did not know a word of English. America is my country.'”
The book shares some humorous moments, too. There is the time that President Reagan came to chat with the handlers and their dogs and “Marko was staring right up at the president, baring his canines.” Instead of holding tighter to the leash, which might indicate tension, McMillan relaxed, communicating to his dog that everything was all right. The president did not get bitten, much to the relief of everyone present.
There is a lot about the training of the dogs and how the handlers and dogs work and practice to keep up their skills. There is also a lot of information about the dogs who help keep the White House safe using their noses, not their brawn. When visitors enter the White House, there is a fan blowing air past them toward a dog stationed behind a screen. The dog is checking the air for any scent of forbidden or dangerous contraband.
In spite of their training, the dogs are not perfect. Roadee, one of the scent dogs, is a terror when left alone. One story tells of the family returning home after dinner out to find that “a snowmageddon had stormed through while they were out. The (dog bed) cover was shredded to snowflakey bits all over the room. The bed itself had been divested of much of its foam. Roadee looked at him with a piece of foam clinging to the side of his mouth.”
Perhaps the most touching stories are about the dogs who have died or
almost died. Dyson is a liver-and-white springer spaniel who checks for explosives on people by walking along the sidewalks near the White House. Dyson almost died from heatstroke from playing ball with his handler, Nate, in a temperature that was in the mid-80s. Dyson lived because Nate recognized that something was wrong with Dyson, took his temperature (it was 108), and immediately cooled him down. But in spite of the quick action, Dyson almost died. He still is carefully monitored to make sure that he doesn’t get overly heated.
This book is riveting. Goodavage doesn’t just tell one story and then move on to the next story. She intertwines them and introduces a handler and his (or her) dog, then returns to their story later. It’s a nonfiction book that reads like an exciting novel –it’s brilliant.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Dutton, for review purposes.